Johannes de Eyck or Jan van Eyck was one of the most venerated North European painters of the fifteenth century. Flemish in origin, he founded the ‘Northern Renaissance’ styles of painting, where meticulous attention to detail was given prime importance. Jan was born in the year 1385, to a family of painters in Maaseik, Limburg, Belgium. The authenticity of his date of birth is not established, however. He was famous for popularizing oil painting and inventing new techniques through it.
Jan van Eyck was trained under the guidance of Hubert van Eyck, his elder, painter brother. He taught the artist to paint, and to experiment with the colors from Pliny. After the tutelage of his brother, Jan van Eyck collaborated with him in his work, and later they both were commissioned as the court painters to the Philip of Charolais. In 1421, Jan left his brother’s guidance and became a court painter for the John of Bavaria, The Hague. After the death of John, in 1425, Jan van Eyck was commissioned to work as a court painter for the Valois prince, Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. He stayed at Lille, Northern France, until 1426, to settle down for life at Bruges, Belgium, eventually. Eyck remained faithful to the Prince and was made in-charge of many secret missions. His work of art was regarded as exceptional and commanded handsome rewards.
One of the world-renowned masterpieces of Jan van Eyck was “The Ghent Altarpiece,” painted in 1432. This is a polyptych panel painting, which was kept in the Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium. This huge altarpiece paved way for a brand new style of painting, which envisioned and portrayed traditional ideas with a different temperament. Joost Vijdt commissioned and sponsored this magnificent work, consisting of twenty-four scenes depicting Christ the King, Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Adam, and Eve. Many art historians speculate that Hubert van Eyck initially started this painting in 1426 and later, Jan van Eyck completed it.
The artist created “The Arnolfini Portrait” (London, National Gallery), in 1434, which became a subject of much analysis, and examination by art historians. The painting, celebrating the meaning of true marriage, is a double portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. Each subject in the painting bears a distinct significance, like the dog symbolizing loyalty, the cherry tree outside the window exemplifying love, and the green attire of the wife, depicting her anticipation of becoming a mother. Another crowning achievement by Jan van Eyck was “The Annunciation” (1434-1436) that demonstrates his deeply spiritual nature. The painting illustrates the conversation of Virgin Mary with angel Gabriel, shown stating that Mary will bear the child of God. The light in the room coming from upper window enhances the presence of divine elements. Virgin Mary is represented in a deeply meditative mood, resulting out of the realization that she would have to bear the sorrow of the crucifixion of her child. Jan van Eyck’s other notable paintings include “Madonna in the Church” (1430), “Portrait of a Man” (1433), “St. Jerome” (1440), and “The Adoration of the Lamb” (1432).
Jan van Eyck died on July 9, 1441, in Bruges. He was a master of Realism and remained an inspiration for the art community for his scrupulous attention to detail. His work is put to display at famous art galleries, such as National Gallery of Art, London, and National Gallery of Art, New York. He once famously quoted, “Painting is a form of profound creative release,” delineating his passion, called art.
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